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April 24, 2006

Interesting sentencing start to an interesting SCOTUS week

Though a big death penalty week is on tap for the Supreme Court (details here), today SCOTUS got the week started with these interesting non-capital sentencing developments:

1.  The Recuenco dog did not DIG bark: After a seemingly off-topic and unexciting oral argument in Washington v. Recuenco last week, there was added speculation that the Supreme Court might DIG the case (meaning Dismiss cert as Improvidently Granted).  But this report from SCOTUSblog on today's work by the High Court makes no mention of any DIG.

2.  No cert grants on interesting sentencing issues:  As also reported by SCOTUSblog, the Court "turned aside an appeal by the state of Minnesota, seeking to test whether the Court's 2004 decision in Blakely v. Washington restricts judges' power to impose longer criminal sentences based on judge-made findings of fact about the crime, but not facts about the perpetrator."  This case was Minnesota v. Allen, which I covered a lot here and here.  Also, according to SCOTUSblog, the Court "declined to hear two appeals on an issue involving the basis for calculating good-time credits for prisoners serving federal sentences," although "Justice John Paul Stevens filed an opinion discussing the issue" in Moreland v. Federal BOP (available here).  I'll discuss this matter more once I see the Stevens opinion.

3.  A (pro-defendant) summary reversal on a guideline drug sentencing issue:  As also reported by SCOTUSblog, the Court in Salinas v. US, No. 05-8400 (S. Ct. Apr. 24, 2006) (available here), "ordered the Fifth Circuit Court to take a new look at a case on simple possession of an illegal drug," although this followed the Solicitor General conceding that the Fifth Circuit had erred in determining what is a "controlled substance offense" for purposes of the Sentencing Guidelines.  I'll also comment more on this ruling once I see a copy of the Court's opinion.

UPDATE:  There is not much there there in either the one-page Salinas runing or in the two-page Moreland statement by Justice Stevens, although that Justice Stevens does shine light on the importance of the good-time credit issue.

April 24, 2006 at 11:33 AM | Permalink

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SCOTUSblog notes that the Court issued a per curiam ruling in Salinas v. U.S. today, resolving the question of whether simple possession of drugs can be counted as a "controlled substance offense" in the sentencing guidlines: "The Court's brief, unsign... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 24, 2006 10:32:11 PM

Comments

Re: No. 1 above, I had a brief e-mail exchange with Jim Whisman, counsel for the State of Washington.

He told me that he doubted the SCOTUS would duck the structural-error question by deciding the case according to the rule Justice Scalia proposed in his dissent in Neder (i.e., that the 6th Amendment error can be deemed harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because the jury necessarily found the aggravating fact of firearms possession in reaching its verdict). Rather, Jim expects the Court either to decide the structural error issue outiright or to D.I.G. the case.

Posted by: Steve | Apr 25, 2006 10:05:54 AM

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